Look ahead 10, 20, 30 years. Who will be in church for regular services? Will it still be open? Early Christians met in each other’s houses, so why did churches develop? One of the reasons was to have enough space as numbers grew, and to have a place common to all where skills could be harnessed to the glory of something bigger than humanity. A drawback of meeting in people’s homes was that the hosts started to claim that they were more important because they were the host. Issues of possessiveness crept in (too much ‘self’ again). That’s why many clergy, myself included, don’t like meetings to be always in the same person’s house, and why church things shouldn’t be kept in people’s homes except as a last resort. Churches, church halls and vicarages are neutral territory, open and available to all. How can we make them more available? In days gone by, churches were used for public meetings, dances, entertainments, fairs, parties, and so on. Some still are: it’s good to see churches used for concerts, teas, community events. But … what will church services be like in 10, 20, 30 years’ time? Will there be any? Will the church still be available for weddings and funerals? What do we need to do to secure the church’s future as a centre of Christian spiritual sustenance? Does anyone care?
As a priest, I’m always conscious that because of their experiences, many people see me as a finger- wagging killjoy. Some people see me as divorced from reality, living in my own little world, experiencing daily two-way communication with an imaginary friend. Some people see me as a danger to society for all sorts of reasons. Perceptions like this influence the future of church. I suspect that a fair number of people don’t come because it intimidated them—or worse—when they were young. We cannot ignore these perceptions if the church is to survive, let alone prosper. What do people think we get up to? Perhaps they think we sacrifice virgins on the altar—after all, we eat flesh and drink blood, do we not? Lots of people say that church is full of hypocrites (please join us: there’s always room for one more). But if they came, would they be welcomed without being pointed at? Would they be able to hear? Would they be uplifted by the liturgy and the music? Would they get a glimpse of heaven?